Jul/Aug 2006 Nonfiction

The Sleepless Verse

by patrick iberi

Art by Victor Ehikhamenor

For the many poets and I who battle with insomnia, the night is always two-faced: one countenance transcends the appealing darkness, the lure to shut your eyes and rest the body, ridding yourself of whatever the day yielded with a resignation that the succeeding day would break into something new and refreshing. That is supposing you've had a not too pleasant one.

The other is the enduring visage of silence that taunts me to no end. Stillness incubates the muse, and my banal reflections concede defeat to the severity of imagination.

I could be elsewhere feeding the hungry in another time zone, comforting a grieving family, or donating my blood to save a human life. Yet I lie here and imagine someone else doing all of these. But that someone I ponder could be me without exerting my resolve to attract the empathy of an alter ego.

Poetry becomes my refuge as the night wears on. A wasted enterprise this, I admit. My sleeplessness should account for something, not just to make words form a conundrum that only the night can decipher. My mantra should come alive as a refrain on the lips of the living as well as to remember the dead.

But while I concede that a verse will not heal the world of its ills, I am also acquainted with the fact that neither all the narcissistic religions on earth--whose faithfuls still seek succour in their tenets--can lay claim to demystifying the human condition.

Nor will the proclamation of a new world order filled with science and technology revitalize the soul of mankind like poetry has done in times of deep sorrow and despair. Think of the Holocaust, think of slavery, and think of all the wars and pestilence in human history. Imagine the grief and desolation; read the epitaphs, mourn the dead, relieve the memories, calm the spirit... write a poem!

I try once more to fall asleep with the comfort of this blanket rationale, a submission, more like. In any case, I had longed for nirvana, perhaps the reality of enlightenment reserved exclusively for those who yearn for the secret offerings only the night may give. And there it was all along, and like a man at a peep show, I wanted more.

I recall my first encounter with poetry as a youngster. It wasn't the nursery rhymes in elementary school or the imposed appreciation of classic English verses while studying in an African College that struggled to balance the native and colonial influence in its curriculum.

The voice belonged to T.C Nwosu in his poem "Star dust," anthologised in Senanu and Vincent's selection of African poetry published by Longman press. I found myself reading this aloud to myself at home. It was a stirring eulogy that beseeched my subconscious and seemed to mould my personification of life years later when I got introduced to existentialism as a Philosophy student in the University.

How to separate the two has been my dilemma ever since, and of course the night adds its own twist by suggesting that the verity of my thoughts could be lost in the shadows of dawn.

For how do I find a poetic theme distant from what existence permits? Do I curse the beauty of poetry because I am inclined to express the futility of the lives of its creators?

Or do I go ahead and concur with the ecclesiastical writings of the teacher in the Christian Bible and find a balance in my indulgence?

Pen in hand I scribble down the verse before it disappears:

I will call you by your name
When the night reveals its message...

I write down nearly a dozen more, all disconnected, words filled with expressions accusing me of neglect. I know I have to make them mean something. I understand I don't have to keep coming back to them each night while they starve in the day.

But creative writing takes different forms, entertaining, educating and enlightening. Finding my niche as a writer becomes paramount. Keeping faith with it becomes even harder than what a lot of folks might want to consider given the commoditization of literature in contemporary times.

The socio-economic conditions of the writer is always a factor, but I am also intrigued by the dualism of the self. Trying to separate my life from my art snowballs into a bigger poser that will form the basis for future reflection.

However, for now I will sleep as soon as I find a definitive theme; one that would be my lullaby, I know I will, just after I make meaning of the verses below:

I'll call you by your name
Periscope of evergreen collage
You unclick the lens of transformation
The bright smile of a weary mind

I'll call you by your name
I hear its abiding echo
From the skies which claimed our nylon kites
To the clump of earth beneath your forebears

I'll call you by your name
And wait outside the thunderstorm
Seeking the flood which must follow
To cleanse your curse upon me

I'll call you by your name
When the night reveals it message
When no one is present to see
Childhood tears dry up on greying beard

I'll call you by your name
If you ever hear me
Then my voice shall be your awakening
To the essence of this name that you bear!


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